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Sporting KC v Philadelphia Union: Preview, Predictions, Starting XI and more

Lions and tigers and bears and stats and injuries.... oh my.

MLS: Sporting KC at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC v Philadelphia Union (#SKCvPHI)

When: Sunday, March 10th, 2019 at 2:00 PM CT

Where: Children’s Mercy Park

How to Watch/Stream: FOX Sports Kansas City | FOX Sports Midwest | ESPN+ | Fox Sports Go

How to Listen: Sports Radio 810 WHB | ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM

Sporting Kansas City return home for a Major League Soccer game for the first time since being unceremoniously bounced from the MLS Cup Playoffs by the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Finals. The Union also made those playoffs but were sent home in the knockout round by New York City FC.

Both teams will be coming into the week looking for their first points of the 2019 season. Sporting KC went on the road to Los Angeles Football Club and dropped the away point in the final seconds of the game on an Adama Diomande 94th minute goal. The Union on the other hand played at home but got thumped by a struggling Toronto FC team by the score of 3-1 which included a Michael Bradley brace.

Recent history in this series doesn’t bode well for Sporting KC though. They haven’t beat the Union since April of 2015 (the US Open Cup win was technically a tie won in a penalty kick shootout). In 2018 Philly took the only meeting with a Jay Simpson brace. Simpson is gone and that game was in Philly, so maybe it means nothing.

Complicating matters for SKC is the whirlwind travel schedule they’ve suffered through. Since their CONCACAF Champions League opener against Toluca FC in KC, they’ve been to Mexico, Los Angeles, Panama and only just returned home in the past couple days. Tired legs and schedule congestion could make this match-up, or any game really, a tough one.

What’s Changed in Philly?

Out are the aforementioned Simpson, former SKC forward CJ Sapong, star midfielder Borek Dockal and young fullback prospect Keegan Rosenberry. The Union also dumped a series of roleplayers and are betting on youth as much as they did in 2018.

In are a bunch of kids you’ve never heard of, backup center back and former SKC fan favorite Aurelien Collin and the man they hope will move the team forward in star Marco Fabian. Fabian arrived from Eintracht Frankfurt of the Bundesliga and despite his injury history, is being paid handsomely. He does have the club’s lone goal of the season.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT - Jimmy Medranda (knee surgery)

QUESTIONABLE - Andreu Fontas (hip pointer)

Philadelphia

OUT/QUESTIONABLE - None

Suspensions

Sporting KC - Roger Espinoza (red card)

Philadelphia - None

Stats

Sporting KC

GOALS - Krisztian Nemeth (1)

ASSISTS - Johnny Russell (1)

Philadelphia

GOALS - Marco Fabian (1)

ASSISTS - None

Starting XI Predictions

It really comes down to how seriously Peter Vermes is taking the CCL game the following Thursday. Sporting KC trail Club Atletico Independiente 2-1 heading into the decisive second leg and they’ll likely need to be on their A game to overcome that deficit (though a 1-0 home win would seal it on away goals). It seems likely CAI will score, so I think you’ve got to consider resting some of your tired players (or even guys you just want fresh for the CAI game).

One player getting forced rest is Roger Espinoza who picked up two yellow cards against LAFC to ensure he got a game off. On Wednesday SKC went with Kelyn Rowe and Espinoza in the midfield. Rowe looked poor and Roger looked tired. That said, I’d give Rowe another run out to save something for Thursday.

I suspect many starters will return this game, but if too many play, it’s a real risk for Thursday’s CCL game. An important game to keep an eye on for who could play Sunday is the Swope Park Rangers season opener on Saturday against New York Red Bulls II. If players like Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, Jaylin Lindsey and Gianluca Busio aren’t in the lineup, it could mean they are destined for a Sunday start (or at the very least a spot in the 18).

Whatever changes PV considers, I think he absolutely needs to rest Matt Besler and Ilie Sanchez. Fontas is questionable so that could mean the risky pairing of Graham Smith and Botond Barath at the back. It’s risky, but playing Besler for the fourth time in 11 days is insanity and risks injuring him.

The same is true of Ilie. Take a chance on Kuzain a defensive midfielder or perhaps move back Felipe Gutierrez who has played the #6 spot for other clubs.

Up front, I’d start the ineffective Erik Hurtado and bring on Nemeth for the last 30 minutes as needed. Save Gerso for CCL and start Russell but be willing to pull him.

Vermes said squad rotation would be on Wednesday and Sunday, so let’s guess wildly.

Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Besler, Wallace, Ilie, Gerso, Busio, Nemeth

To be clear, I’ve got no clue. Despite getting that CCL game entirely right outside of the surprise keeper switch, your guess is as good as mine.

Fan Starting XI

The fan vote is very divided, as is to be expected. Had PV just played the backups against LAFC it’d be clear he could do that against Philly. Instead, who knows really. You guys still have Besler in the lineup next to Barath. By a single vote Ilie starts in the midfield. Then it’s the regulars up front. Let’s be specific:

Melia

Zusi - Barath - Besler - Sinovic

Rowe - Ilie - Gutierrez

Russell - Nemeth - Gerso

The top non-starter vote getters at press time were: Busio (46.8%), Fontas (35.1%) Salloi (33%), Lindsey (30.9%), Croizet [mid] (27.7%), Kuzain (26.6%), Wallace (24.5%), Smith (20.2%) and Hurtado (19.1%).

Croizet in the midfield kind of reminds me of Espinoza, which is something that works well for SKC. Though he is just a tick more likely to lose the ball than Roger, so that’s also worrying. Busio and Rowe are both attacking mids in my mind and I struggle to imagine them together. In their lone preseason game together the team struggled to possess the ball against the backups for the Houston Dynamo. Not a great sign.

Prediction

I’m hoping Philly are just terrible this year and SKC can pull it out no matter who they play with 20,000+ screaming fans behind them. But I’m worried. I’d take a draw because a loss would feel real terrible right now. The team needs some momentum and MLS points. I’ll say they find a way at home (but I’m anything but confident).

2-1 Sporting KC Win

What do you think? Predictions in the chat for both lineups and results are welcome. We can’t quite tell who you voted for in our other poll, so let us know why we are wrong.